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Don’t Stop Saving for Retirement – Keep Contributing to Your 401(a) or 457 Plan


There is seldom a dull moment on Wall Street. Stocks may rise or fall dramatically over the course of a year or a decade. Sometimes, breaking news may tempt you to pull money out of a 401(a) plan or 457 plan, or greatly reduce your contributions to either. If you’re considering such moves, think twice.

Don’t stop saving for retirement. Even if you think you’re wealthy enough to forego contributing to a money purchase plan or deferred compensation plan for a while, you could end up seriously shortchanging your retirement savings potential by reducing your balance or elective salary deferrals.

These plans are terrific retirement savings vehicles – and the fact is that most Americans have not saved enough for their retirement years. Additionally, if you withdraw money from a 401(a) plan before age 59½, you’ll face a 10% tax penalty (with few exceptions) and you may end up spending money today that could have enjoyed tax-deferred compounding in the future. (Thankfully, your 457 plan contributions aren’t subject to early withdrawal penalties; only retirement savings funds that you roll over into a 457 get hit with the usual 10% penalty if withdrawn too soon.)

Don’t lose out on the power of tax deferral & compounding. Together, these factors have the potential to dramatically grow your retirement savings. As a hypothetical example, let’s say you have $30,000 in your 457 deferred comp plan at age 40, and you just contribute $50 a month to it for the next 20 years while your account yields 8% a year. Twenty years later, that $30,000 will grow into $177,255. In fact, it would grow to $147,804 in 20 years under those circumstances even if you never contributed a penny to it after age 40, all thanks to compounding and tax deferral.

You make pre-tax contributions to a 457 plan, and contributions to 401(a) plans may be made with pre-tax dollars as well. These pre-tax contributions reduce the amount of taxable income listed on your W-2 form.

Contribution limits on 457 plans are unchanged for 2014. You can put up to $17,500 in a 457 next year if you are younger than 50, and $23,000 if you are 50 or older (thanks to the catch-up contribution allowance for most 457 plans).

Next year, the total contribution limit for the combined employee and employer contributions to a 401(a) money purchase plan increases to $52,000.

Don’t lose out on a match. Does the employer sponsoring the 401(a) plan match your contributions – say, something like a dollar-for-dollar match on the first 3% of salary? If you make $60,000 per year, 3% is $1,800. Would you throw away $1,800 worth of free money each year? You shouldn’t, especially given that this money will grow tax-deferred.

Do keep contributing steadily. It’s a good idea to keep up the dollar cost averaging and continue to make steady month-to-month or paycheck-to-paycheck salary deferrals. In all probability, this is central to your financial plan – and how will you amass the retirement savings you need if you stop contributing? Sure, there are other ways to build retirement savings, but dollar-cost-averaged contributions to a 457 plan or money purchase plan represent a consistent, recurring way to get that job done.

If contributions are made via a dollar cost averaging approach, the investment dollar buys shares at a lower price in a bear market – and it also buys more shares for the money. So when a bull market cycle resumes, you may end up in a really good position.

It’s a good idea to keep contributing even if you are falling behind financially. Should you pay down debts with your 457 plan assets? Only as a last resort. In fact, if you are looking at a bankruptcy you should know that assets in 457 plans and profit sharing plans commonly qualify for state and/or federal exemptions in personal bankruptcies.

If you haven’t maxed out 457 plan contributions in prior years, you may be able to make “double limit” catch-up contributions to a 457 in the three years prior to your normal retirement age. The limit in each of these three years is the lesser of a) twice the normal annual contribution limit, or b) the annual contribution limit plus the difference between the annual limit and what was under-contributed in previous plan years.

Do review your goals with your financial advisor. Look at your time horizon. Look at your overall financial plan. Whether you are nearing retirement or far away from it, you will see that 401(a) plans and 457 plans are vital tools for pursuing your financial objectives – whether you contribute to one type of account, or both. Whatever this or that website may proclaim, don’t be discouraged by short-term headlines; abide by the long-term plan created personally for you.


About the Independent Financial Advisor

Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.

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